The expression Pygmy, has been used to refer to diminutive people. It derives from the Greek word πυγμαίος pugmaios, a term that means “dwarf” in Greek mythology. The word is derived from πυγμή, a term for “cubit“, suggesting a diminutive height. It has been used to refer to small-framed African hunter-gatherers since the early 19th century, in English first by John Barrow in his book Travels Into the Interior of Southern Africa (1806). But how do the pygmies call themselves? And how do the pharaohs of ancient Egypt called them?
According to S. A. Dembner (Forest peoples in the central African rain forest: focus on the pygmies), there is a universal “disdain for the term “pygmy” among the “Pygmy” peoples of Central Africa. They consider the term as pejorative and prefer to be referred to by the name of their respective ethnic or tribal groups, such as Bayaka, Mbuti and Twa.
And this is problematic to most scholars because there is no clear replacement for the term “Pygmy” in reference to the umbrella group. But a descriptive term that has seen some use since the 2000s. It is “Central African foragers” or CAF. And we will use this term for the rest of the article.
According to many people or even scholars, the people of Kemet did not know the African groups who lived in the southern regions of Africa. They say that the Sahara separated them, so, there was no contact between Kemet and “the blacks” as they like to call the Africans who live in the southern regions. Which according to them explains why the ancient Kemites were not black people like their southern neighbors.
But many pieces of evidence contradict these theories. The existence of a word to identify the CAF in the Kemetic language is one of them. In order to prove the existence of a concept within a society, one should look at the language used by these people. For example, if we think about the concept of chattel slavery, we know that it did not exist in ancient Africa. And to prove that, all we have to do is to look at the native African languages. There is no term to define that concept. And when a word does not exist, it means that the practice is unknown to the people.
But there is a word to define the Central African Foragers in the Kemetic language, despite the Sahara desert and despite the thousands of miles that separate both regions. This proves that there were regular contacts between both people. The ancient Kemites clearly possessed a strong knowledge of their African neighbors.
One of the oldest document that mentions the CAF in Kemet comes from the tomb of Khewefhar or ‘Harkhuf’, at Aswan. The inscription refers to Khewefhar’s journeys to the areas in the south of Nubia. He made four journeys in these regions and three of these journeys were made during the reign of Mernere and the fourth in that of Pepy II, both kings of Sixth Dynasty.
Whilst on his last journey he wrote to the king reporting that he had secured a CAF, and the king’s reply to that letter is copied on the walls of his tomb. The king replied to him and gave him explicit directions on how to secure his guest who was considered as someone very important.
There is another reference to a CAF brought to Kemet by one Werdjededba’ in the reign of the Pharaoh Isesi. These references can be inferred from the king’s letter, which opens with an acknowledgment of his minister’s communication, and proceeds as follows:
“Come northward to the residence immediately. Leave (everything?) and bring this CAF with thee, which thou hast brought living, prosperous, and healthy from the land of the Akhtiu, for the dances of the god, to rejoice and gladden the heart of the King of Upper and Lower Kemet Neferkere, may he live forever. When he (the CAF) goes down with theta the vessel, appoint trusty people, who shall be about him on each side of the vessel; take care lest he fall into the water. When he sleeps at night, appoint again trusty people who shall sleep about him in his tent: inspect ten times at night. My majesty desires to see this CAF more than the produce of the Sinai and of Pwenet. If thou arrivest at the Residence, this CAF with thee alive, prosperous and healthy My Majesty will do for thee a greater thing than that which was done for the Treasurers of the God Werdjededba’ in the time of Isesi, in accordance with the heart’s desire of My Majesty to see this CAF.”][vc_column_text]
We can see that according to the Kemites, the CAF were a divine people who knew the dances of The God. They were valued and appreciated by the pharaohs. Notice the fact that it referrers to one single God. according to the Kemites, God lived in the southern regions of Africa. And the fact that the CAF lived in these regions too, made them a divine people. Obviously, the Kemites knew the original order of the planet. The fact that human beings originated in these southern regions of Africa and logically God had to live there because he was the creator.
The word used by the Kemites to call the CAF was Dng, Deneg, Daneg or Dag (depending on different transcriptions). According to the Kemites, the CAF were the only people on earth who could execute some dances that they called the dances of The God. It was so special to them, that even regular dwarfs were not able to execute them. It was not something that could be taught to people who did not belong to the CAF groups.
Scholars even noticed that there are very few mentions of these dances being executed in Kemet. Probably because it only happened on very special occasions, when CAFs came to Kemet. This also explains why the Kings were so impressed and excited when they had the chance to receive these divine guests from the land of The God. The dances belonged to the CAF people, probably because they directly came from the land of The God. They knew, what pleased him.
This should teach us how we should behave with each other. We have to learn to value each other the way our ancestors did. They knew the way. People of short stature, in general, were respected in Kemet. And tolerance was even taught. There is an example of these teachings in the Instruction of Amenemope at the end of the 2nd millennium BC, a call for justice and forbearance is provided:
The god Bes is thought to be represented in the image of these divine beings. Bes was worshipped as a protector of households and, in particular, of mothers, children and childbirth. Bes later came to be regarded as the defender of everything good and the enemy of all that is bad. These characteristics fit perfectly with the mentality of the CAFs. Those who studied them know how genuinely good-hearted they are.
The cult of Bes was present in Kemet since the start of the Old Kingdom. There are mentions of Bes during the pre-dynastic Nile Valley cultures. And these pre-dynastic Nile valley cultures are classified as Nubian cultures. However the cult of Bes become widespread during the beginning of the New Kingdom.
All these elements prove how Kemet belonged to the black African world. We can see that even the elements and people the most singular to the continent, can be found at the roots of the Kemetic culture. Elements like these should teach us about how we should look at that ancient civilization. Today we look at Kemet using a European point of view or a Greco-Roman one. And doing so prevents us from truly seeing the identity of these people. It prevents us from truly understanding that culture because we use a foreign paradigm (European or Asiatic) to understand an African concept.
Each group on this planet sees the world a certain way, and one concept can have a different meaning according to the paradigm used to look at it. For example, snakes have a very negative meaning in some cultures, while in others they are seen as positive. The time is now, to look at this ancient civilization through the African lens. Doing so will help us discover concepts and acquire knowledge that was hidden and impenetrable until now.